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The surprising role of Egypt with U.S. seed

Published in the June 2012 Issue Published online: Jun 10, 2012 John Toaspern, USPB International Marketing VP
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In 2010-2011, Egypt imported 124,707 metric tons of seed potatoes valued at $86 million, making it the world's largest importer of seed potatoes. Do you know what happened to all the potatoes that were produced from this seed? Roughly 40 percent were exported to Europe, the former Soviet Union and regional markets, with the remainder consumed in the local market.

In the local market, about 10 percent were used to make potato chips and frozen fries, while 10 percent were used as seed for the "winter" season, which is planted starting in September. Do you know where all of these imported seed potatoes came from? They all came from Europe-mainly the Netherlands, Scotland and France.

Do you know the population of Egypt? It is over 83 million inhabitants. Do you know what per capita potato consumption in Egypt is? It is currently only 25 kg per capita, certainly well below the U.S. or Europe, but large enough to show that potatoes are an important and growing part of the Egyptian diet. Do you know why Egyptians eat mainly wheat and rice, when they do not have enough land or water to produce even half of their demand? Flour in Egypt is subsidized at over 50 percent, providing a staple food to the significant portion of the population that lives on less than two dollars per day. At some point, the fact that four to five times more calories can be produced from the same amount of water with potatoes will further increase potato production and consumption in Egypt.

Do you know why the international marketing department at the USPB just led a trade mission of U.S. seed potato growers and shippers to Egypt? Because starting three years ago, the USPB has been working with USDA to establish market access for U.S. potatoes to Egypt. Full access has still not been completed, but it appears the two governments are getting very close. The presence of a delegation from the USPB and meetings with government officials during the visit helped to further this process. The U.S. growers and shippers were also able to make contacts with the private sector importers and potato growers that control much of the potato market in Egypt.

Do you know why the USPB is conducting variety trials for U.S. seed potatoes in Egypt? Because in addition to market access for U.S. seed potatoes, U.S. varieties must also be registered in Egypt before they can be commercially imported. A significant part of the registration process is the results of the trials in Egypt. The USPB, in conjunction with its local partner in Egypt, has submitted registration applications for seven U.S. varieties. It is hoped a positive decision will be made this summer.

Do you know when the first commercial shipments of U.S. potatoes will be made to Egypt? Neither do I, but the size and diversity of the Egyptian potato industry means it will be a significant event and well worth the investment by the USPB and U.S. seed potato growers.